For as long as I can remember, I’ve been obsessed by love. Like most little girls in America, I was raised on a diet of fairy tales, romantic comedies, and the persistent idea that—somehow, somewhere—there was a knight in shining armor made especially for me. He would come along on his white horse and free me from the castle of the mundane, transforming my life into wonderful.
Thus, for most of my life—up until recently—I chased love and was chased by love. It was the most potent, intoxicating drug I knew.
In high school, I fell in love with a tall boy who had the most charming laugh. Holding his hand in the backseat of my mother’s car: my heart so tender, raw, and wanting. We wrote letters after high school, but after refusing to be monogamous with me, I burned his letters and vowed to forget him.
During college, I discovered I could fall madly in love with women. Their breasts intrigued me. I could lie in bed with them for hours and hours, feeling our skin together like satin, lace.
Later, it was the poet who always wore black.
Then the marine who proposed marriage to me, but then one week later proposed to someone else.
Right after college, I married my best friend. He was a lovely man with curly hair and a rotund belly. He worked at Starbucks and loved loud parties. He made me laugh and helped me forget what I wanted to forget. We loved poetry and wine. Five years later, to my utter shock, I found our conversations growing stale. We divorced.
While working on a PhD, I discovered that monogamy was not the only way to love. I explored a radical method of spiritual practice called polyamory. By transcending jealousy and allowing my lovers to love others, my heart opened by miles. I felt I was on the cutting edge of human evolution. At one point, I had four partners simultaneously, all of whom were known to each other. In time, each of those romances ended, for various reasons, but I never forgot how amazing it was to say to my partner, “Honey, I’m falling in love with someone else” and for them to say, “Wow, I’m so happy for you! Tell me more!”
In my mid-thirties I fell in love with my spiritual teacher. It ended in more confusion and heartbreak than can ever be described in words.
And then there was the man who lived across the ocean. This man, who loved me as deeply and as fiercely as I loved him. He made love to guitars with his hands. I could sit and listen to his music forever.
We remembered many of our past lives together and sometimes re-entered them by accident, finishing up threads of old conversations, saying our goodbyes and making amends for tragedies that had haunted our souls.
We loved to adventure together, to the wild places of sea and tree. Everyone said we looked like brother and sister. Sometimes, when I looked into his eyes, I saw my own eyes. I couldn’t not be with him. I had no control of it. Kissing him was a breathless, deathless experience of time and space melting. Sometimes we would Skype for six hours in a single day, watching in fascination as the afternoon sun slowly dissolved into dusk.
After five years of plane rides, never enough money, and endless confusions and questions, I finally met his parents. We planned to marry and live in America. I had visions of a pregnant belly and growing a garden. I could rest easy now. I could give up teaching (which still frightened me) and trying to do anything else. My heart had found completion.
And then, an ending came. Even for us. Even for us.
It was one terrible winter morning, torrential rains. Flooding in his village that stopped the trains. Nightmares that were driving me insane: The immigration system was not on our side. A lingering court conviction and one too many tearful airport goodbyes. Too many miles between us. Just too much. I held the phone to my ear, hand shaking, heart racing: “I cannot marry you.” My silver ring dropped to the floor.
The Coronavirus came next, and the world’s borders closed. Shadows and fear everywhere.
Months pass. I am sitting on my back porch, enjoying a bowl of chocolate ice cream with fresh raspberries. It is the first hot weekend of the season: I’m wearing shorts and my arms are deliciously bare.
In a flash, everything becomes clear. I now understand.
All those past lovers, all of them … those beautiful, blissful, and seemingly tragic loves and losses … they were my destiny. My path of waking up.
The intensity with which I’d chased romantic love was the very same intensity of the Universe chasing me. My obsession with men and women, with people I could touch and kiss, was simply a craving for the Ultimate, which one can never physically touch but can also touch us deeper than any person, any situation, any thing.
I stare into my bowl of ice cream, loosening my grip on the spoon. Watching how the red of the raspberries blend into the deep, earthy brown of the cream.
There is nothing, absolutely nothing, that anyone else can ever give to me that is not here already.
For here is love.
This bowl of ice cream.
These backyard trees.
No man or woman nearby.
Nobody to chase
or to be chased by.
Just love, living itself through me. Looking through my eyes. Feeling through my heart.
I slowly set down my bowl of ice cream, my vision swirling. Smells and sounds now heightened. I step out onto the grass, barefoot, and touch a tree. It’s covered with the most exquisite bright green moss. Tears now mixed with laughter. I’m free, I’m free, I whisper aloud. I’m free.
The miracle of not getting what we want. The miracle of failure, defeat, and wanting. The miracle of the broken, rapturous heart. Open, boundless, and free.